GN Focus | Ramadan

6 ways to survive 16 hours of Ramadan fasting

Fasting from dawn to sunset during the month of Ramadan is definitely a challenging experience. This year, it gets even tougher as the holy month falls during the hot, long days of July and August, with fasting periods ranging from 15 to 16 hours. Here are some guidelines to help you experience the spiritual benefits without compromising your health

  • By Chiranti Sengupta, Features Writer
  • Published: 00:00 July 15, 2012

  • Image Credit: Supplied
  • Maintain a well-balanced diet
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1. Maintain a well-balanced diet

Ramadan greatly alters eating patterns of fasting Muslims: during the hours of slow metabolism people consume heavy meals. Though it is not easy to fast for such long hours, doctors say that our bodies can cope with such stress. In fact, the month-long fasting gives our bodies an opportunity to regulate blood lipid levels, reduce excess weight and detoxify naturally.

“The UAE’s long summer days may present a challenge to those fasting. So one must be especially careful about hydration and the food consumed,” says Safeek Ali, dietician at Welcare Hospital. 

A well-balanced diet comprising smaller portions but including the major food groups such as grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy products and protein, will keep fasting individuals healthy and active during Ramadan. Those fasting should never skip suhoor as after this pre-dawn meal there will be a 16-hour gap before they can eat again. “Those fasting should include a combination of slow digesting complex carbohydrates, lean protein and high-fibre vegetables in their diet, especially during suhoor, so they can stay full longer,” Ali says.

Chandy George, Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultant, Balance Wellness Club, suggests that when fasting for extended hours during the summer months, it is important to drink plenty of fluids during the non-fasting hours to prevent dehydration.  “While breaking fasts, ensure that your iftar meal includes plenty of water, sugar-free fresh juices and water-rich fruits.  It is also advisable to stay away from caffeinated drinks that can cause dehydration.”

2. Fast under a doctor’s supervision if unwell

Diabetics or cardiac patients usually refrain from fasting during Ramadan. However, they can observe fasts if they wish, under their doctor’s supervision.

Dr Sujoy Chakraborty, general physician at Lifeline Hospital, Jebel Ali, advises that diabetics should check their blood glucose levels many times a day and diligently record the results. If they notice any drastic change in their blood sugar level, or body weight, they should consult their doctors immediately.

“Eat a healthy diet with two or three smaller meals during the non-fasting period to prevent after-meal hyperglycemia. Exercise, but modify the intensity and timing of exercise to avoid hypoglycemia. The best time for exercise is two hours after iftar.
“A diabetic should break his fast immediately if the blood sugar level drops below 60mg/ DL or shoots above 300mg/DL. If cardiac patients feel low or experience dizziness and blackouts, they must see their doctor,” he advises.

3. Keep up a regular exercise routine

While it is not advisable to harbour any unrealistic expectations during Ramadan towards achieving new fitness goals, one should exercise regularly to maintain the current level of fitness. Obese individuals can, however, look at Ramadan as a chance to lose extra weight.

“Workout to balance your caloric intake,” says Hisem Hagras, Corporate Wellness Manager, Fitness First Middle East. “Reduce the intensity of your workouts by approximately 25 to 50 per cent during Ramadan to prevent your energy reserve going into overdrive.”

He says the ideal time to hit the gym is either after iftar or suhoor. “If you decide to exercise after breaking your fast, opt for a small iftar meal; a few dates as a source of carbohydrates, water, and a small cup of tea or coffee are good. Eat a proper meal after
the workout.

“Another time which you can also consider for workout is just before iftar; but you have to stick to only light weight training,” Hagras says.
 

4. Help your child observe fasts

Children do not need to fast before they hit puberty but parents can encourage them to fast for a few days to help them understand the spiritual significance of Ramadan. 

 “Children who have a weak body constitution might not be able to fast. Likewise, children who normally need to eat frequently can find fasting difficult. Children who are more active are also among those who will have trouble while fasting. It is the job of parents to determine whether their children are ready to fast,” says Ali of
Welcare.

He points out that as children are constantly growing, their requirement for nutritious foods in proportion to their size is more than adults. Such foods have to be given in small but frequent amounts throughout the non-fasting hours. 

 “An ideal balanced diet should have macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats), calories to support energy needs and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Dietary indiscretion during the non-fasting period with excessive gorging or compensatory eating of carbohydrate and fatty foods can lead to weight gain,” warns Ali.

5. Eat carefully if on physically strenous jobs

The ability to remain active during the fasting hours depends on the kind and quantity of food one consumes. “A fasting individual must sustain a careful balance between the calories consumed and the energy expended for efficiency when it comes to physically demanding jobs,” says Ali.

He advises people involved in such jobs to eat a good blend of lean protein, wholemeal grains and some essential fats. For them it is important to watch their sodium intake, as high sodium foods such as soup cubes, sauces, salty gravies, high-sodium bread products and canned meats can cause dehydration and increase thirst during the day.

Avoid processed and refined foods as they only deliver a quick burst of energy by temporarily spiking one’s blood-glucose levels. Proper hydration is essential to avoid headaches, fatigue, irritability and illness.

George of Balance Wellness Club suggests short spurts of breathing exercises that help maintain focus at the workplace. “Count for ten seconds while breathing in, then hold your breath for the next five seconds before exhaling for 20 seconds,” he says.

6. Ensure you get enough sleep

Along with eating habits, sleeping schedules of those fasting also change significantly during Ramadan. Sleeping at different times often impacts their energy levels and makes them feel lethargic and fatigued during the non-fasting hours. Along with a balanced diet it is critical for those fasting to manage their time effectively throughout the day so they can squeeze in enough time for rest.

“Some people sleep through the  day and stay awake at night, which is contrary to the principles of Ramadan. Because of the long fasting hours and the Taraweeh prayer, which starts every night after the Isha prayer, people must try to meet their total sleep requirement in two sessions,” advises Dr Amro Alastal of the Sleep Centre at the American Hospital Dubai.

He says the first session of sleep should take place after the Taraweeh prayer and last up to one hour prior to suhoor, after which there is no need to sleep for more than one hour after the morning prayer. In the afternoon, people must consider getting at least another hour of sleep.

“Good hydration, fruits, vegetables and low-fat food should be the main source of energy for those fasting. Ensure that your stomach is never full before a major sleep period,” he says.